After a decent, if unspectacular, Super Junior Tag League, New Japan rolled into their final major show of the year, Power Struggle. They’ve put together one hell of a card too, as it’s one of the strongest collections of matches you’re likely to see without the Heavyweight Title being defended. With a section of the NJPW fanbase in a bit of a grump recently, this might be what they need to turn the mood around.
Taguchi Japan (ACH, Ryusuke Taguchi, Chris Sabin and Toa Henare) defeated Jushin Thunder Liger, Volador Jr., Soberano Jr. and Tiger Mask
Lanny Poffo has vacated the commentary booth already making Power Struggle a five-star show. Instead, Kevin Kelly has Chuckie T next to him who is always welcome.
Everything you’d expect this match to be, it was. Taguchi and ACH did some rugby based comedy, Liger and Tiger pulled out the greatest hits while Toa Henare always impresses even in short bursts. He also got a break from eating the pinfall, which must have been a nice change for him. Instead, Soberano Jr. finished off an unimpressive tour by staring up at the lights. It was fine. Providing what you’d expect and nothing more. In a week, no-one will remember who was in it.
Verdict: Two And A Quarter Stars
Bullet Club OGs (Tama Tonga, Tonga Loa and Robbie Eagles) defeated Great Bash Heel (Togi Makabe and Tomoaki Honma) and KUSHIDA
New Japan had sent out the message that Taiji Ishimori was injured and he came out on crutches.
Much like the opener, this gave you what you’d expect. Some fun action let down by lots of cheating from The Firing Squad which culminated in Ishimori driving a crutch into KUSHIDA to set him up for a Gun Stun. Apparently, Bone Soldier wasn’t as injured as we thought.
A nothing match with an intelligent storyline beat from Ishimori. The fact New Japan keeps injury news so close to their chest allows them to do stuff like this as we’re used to little to no information. Ishimori might have picked up a slight injury, or he might not have. Either way, he’s now coming for KUSHIDA.
Verdict: Two Stars
CHAOS (Kazuchika Okada and Beretta) defeated Bullet Squad OGs (Jay White and Bad Luck Fale)
A lot of people came into this one expecting Greg to betray Little Kazu. Some of us had faith in Beretta, and it was proven well placed. (Truthfully, I think going heel with him would be a massive mistake. His selling is his greatest attribute which is why he’s an effective babyface).
The most notable thing about all this was Bad Luck Fale taking a rare pinfall as Beretta rolled him up. They’re setting him up for a US Title shot (which he’ll hopefully win), and that’s a huge fall for him to take even if it was presented as an upset. Fale might not win many titles, but he also doesn’t take many falls.
Outside of that, this was all about continuing Okada’s feud with White and Gedo. They had little interest in wrestling and were more into the idea of beating each other up. A storytelling tactic that seems to be working. Judging by the crowd reaction when Okada called White to face him right that moment, this is going to be a molten match by the time we get to the Dome.
Verdict: Two And A Quarter Stars
The Golden Lovers (Kenny Omega and Kota Ibushi) defeated Hiroshi Tanahashi and David Finlay
Look, Kenny has proven himself a bit of an idiot recently. However, the rumours of the demise of his title run are greatly exaggerated. The guy had an outstanding G1, and while the Cody stuff isn’t for me, the Ishii match was. I also have total faith that he and Tana will tear the house down. A bit of perspective is required for this situation. Being a twat on Twitter isn’t a death sentence.
Omega and Tanahashi certainly had eyes on each other in this one. They are playing off the real animosity between them and bringing that aggression to every encounter they have. It would have been easy to build this as a battle of respect, but they’ve gone the opposite way, and while all the talk of philosophies does nothing for me if it’s going to translate into a fiery match, I’m all for it.
Sadly, my Beautiful Magical Elf-Man still feels like an afterthought. However, I’m hopeful that it’s all building to the day Ibushi drives his knee into Omega’s skull. Plus, in the broader scheme of things, he’s a hell of a lot more of a thought than David Finlay is. You didn’t need to be clairvoyant to figure out that he was taking the pin here. Although, he did get a chance to impress with Ibushi before that happened, which was at least something.
While this was just as story heavy as the last two bouts, it was presented differently. The focus was on the wrestling which made it more enjoyable. You had four ridiculously talented men in the ring, and while this wasn’t their best work, it was still good.
Verdict: Three And A Half Stars
Roppongi 3K (SHO and YOH) defeated Suzuki-gun (El Desperado and Yoshinobu Kanemaru) and Los Ingobernables de Japon (Shingo Takagi and BUSHI) to win the Super Junior Tag League
I’m a bit late with this review, and you could argue that time has made this match irrelevant. New Japan has announced that they’ll be having a rematch at the Dome making SHO and YOH’s victory ever so slightly hollow. Some people are annoyed about that, but it’s Gedo. We know this is what he does.
Besides, this was fantastic. I love the dynamics between these teams. You’ve got Suzuki-gun, the ultimate heels who look to control the action by not so much bending the rules as snapping them in two and hiding them under the sofa. In direct contrast to them are Roppongi 3K, the defiant babyfaces who battle with heart and fire. Then, bridging the gap between those two are the rebels, Los Ingobernables de Japon. It’s a trio of teams that fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.
It’s clear which of these men New Japan see the most in, though. SHO and Shingo were protected throughout the tournament which continued into this. They were the ones who were given time to work one on one in the ring, with everything they do together popping off the screen. SHO, in particular, was given the rub here, as he sealed the victory single-handedly by putting away Despy.
I had a lot of fun with this bout which was easily the best of the tournament. Is there an issue with the direction NJPW have chosen? Of course. If it means we get this again, though, well, I’m okay with it.
Verdict: Four And A Quarter Stars
Hirooki Goto defeated Taichi to win the NEVER Openweight Title
This was supposed to be Taichi vs Ospreay, but Will is injured. The widely held belief is that New Japan was moving towards Will vs Kota at the Dome and, if that is the plan, it’s going to be interesting to see how they get there. Is Goto’s one millionth run with the NEVER Title set to be a one and done affair?
I’m talking about all that because it’s infinitely more interesting than the match. Why? Taichi. Need I say more? If you were hoping this would make up for the shenanigan fuelled bout that saw him win the belt, you were to be disappointed. The first thing he did was attack Goto from behind, seemingly knocking him out cold.
That became a pivotal plot point as Taichi chose not to get the win and instead prolong Goto’s torture, ever so slowly beating him down. Old Hirooki would burst onto the front foot, but he was struggling to stay there as Taichi always found an answer to his strings of offence. Then, when he didn’t have one, he cheated.
There was the framework of a decent match here. It played into Goto’s greatest attribute which is his warrior spirit as he was forced to battle not only from underneath but against an opponent without honour. The moments when he came alive and hit one of those devastating moves that he excels at were great. The crowd were behind him, so it was easy to go along with it.
The problem is that the theatre geek who knows some karate (thank Chuckie T for that one) isn’t any good. It was a significantly better performance than their last match, and it still failed to spark. When he was in control, I was bored, while the constant use of shortcuts makes me want to turn off. New Japan has provided him with a chance to compete at the top table and he’s shown he doesn’t belong there.
As I mentioned, this was better than their first title match, so that’s something I guess.
Verdict: Three Stars
Tomohiro Ishii defeated Minoru Suzuki to retain the British Heavyweight Title
Minoru Suzuki vs Tomohiro Ishii is a perfect exhibit of how brutal wrestling can be. There was nothing complex about this. It was two beasts beating each other until one man could be beaten no more. Yet, in that simplicity, they capture something extraordinary.
And the majority of that is done through their faces. Watch the disbelief in Suzuki’s eyes when Ishii dares to insultingly kick him in the head. Or the grimace of pain on Ishii’s as he falls back from a Suzuki blow only for it to morph into a snarl of rage as he charges forward to meet another. They don’t need melodramatic moments of introspection, all they need is a camera zoomed in close.
On top of that, they make you believe that everything they do hurts. When Ishii clenches his fists and roars through a brace of PKs followed by a series of elbows the crowd gasp because before that every move has been treated like it was the hammer of the Gods coming crashing down. For him to shrug that off? Why it’s definitive proof that the man is insane.
Which also explains why when the ending comes it is sudden and definitive. Ishii only requires one Brainbuster because these two badasses have spent the last twenty minutes murdering each other. Every elbow that’s been thrown, every drop of sweat that has been sweated has built to that moment, and that’s why MiSu isn’t getting up.
This is the third time we’ve seen these two this year (I was even lucky enough to be in the audience for one), and there is no denying that it follows a formula. However, it’s a formula I love. Ishii and Suzuki could stand in the centre of the ring and trade blows forever, and fifty years down the line I’d still be cheering. In their brutality, they find beauty.
Verdict: Four And A Half Stars
Tetsuya Naito defeated Zack Sabre Junior
As Zack has risen up the New Japan ladder, his biggest scalps have been claimed against Naito beating him in both the New Japan Cup and the G1. When Zack then attacked an already injured EVIL after a Chris Jericho attack, Naito saw his opportunity for revenge. Although Naito would tell you that it’s not revenge he wants because, you know, he doesn’t care, right?
The question was whether Naito could deal with Zack’s unique offensive style. Their matches have been dominated by Sabre cutting off every attempt of Naito’s to get on a run, and the early going of this was no different. ZSJ went to work on the knee of the lead Ingobernable, ripping it apart and even driving it into the ramp at one point. Considering Zack’s boss had spent the last few months working a similar tactic against Naito, it was no surprise to see that it was effective.
Except for all of Naito’s Tranquilo, there is a reason he is where he is. In the midst of a tough match, his real personality shines through, and you see start to see how much he does care. He began finding openings, and for the first time in this mini-feud, ZSJ was struggling to keep Naito down. By his own high standards, this had been a tough year for the LIJ man, and he needed this win.
For in the midst of this, Naito managed to quench ZSJ’s previously unquenchable cool by hurting his neck. It was a moment that would prove pivotal as Zack was suddenly struggling to lock in his intricate holds. That allowed Naito to break-out of Orienteering With Napalm Death which in another world would have been the moment this ended.
While they went on for quite a while after that, that was the symbolic beginning of the end for ZSJ. Naito had done what he’d previously been unable to, and while it would take a couple of Destinos to seal the deal (and he’d nearly slip on a banana peel when Zack transitioned into a European Clutch), he would ultimately come out victorious.
I think this was ultimately the weakest of their three matches. Naito’s victory was never in doubt, which took a bit of the fire out of it. However, the third best fight between ZSJ and Naito is still better than most things, and this was great.
Verdict: Four Stars
Chris Jericho defeated EVIL to retain the Intercontinental Title
Unhinged New Japan Chris Jericho has become my favourite version of him. His matches feel unique as he produces dangerous brawls that not only hide the fact he’s getting on in age but also shows that he maybe should have been doing this all along. Who knew Y2J’s real calling was as a garbage wrestler?
EVIL is a perfect fit for that style too. He’s a bruiser who can take a beating, although they put that to the test with the way he bounced head first off the announce table early on. What made this interesting, though, was that in there with Jericho he became the underdog. Chris is a big guy nowadays and didn’t look ridiculous throwing EVIL around. On top of that, he’s got a lifetime of wrestling acumen to fall back on in comparison to which EVIL is no more than a suckling babe.
And, most importantly of all, they came together brilliantly. Both these men went out there and worked their arses off, putting their health on the line as they took risks that, quite frankly, someone like Chris Jericho doesn’t have to. It would be so easy for him to play it safe in there with EVIL, yet he’s bumping through tables and eating all sorts of painful looking moves. EVIL, meanwhile, once again stepped up in the main event spot, proving he deserves to be there.
There’s a chance this won’t be to everyone’s taste. It was worked at a slower pace, relying on big spots rather than flurries of offence. You’ve also got the fact that EVIL didn’t win, which will have a few more convinced that Gedo is trying to bury Los Ingobernables. However, if you’ve enjoyed Jericho’s previous matches, I find it hard to believe you won’t feel the same about this one.
Verdict: Four Stars
Afterwards, Jericho locked EVIL in the Walls again which brought out Naito to make the save. He then challenged Jericho which you probably already know because it’s been announced for January 4th.
I want to start by pointing out that Chuckie T was fantastic on commentary tonight. It’s easy to forget that he is perfectly capable of getting serious, and when he does, he knows his shit. After a few shows of Lanny Poffo, he was a breath of fresh air.
Now, onto the show itself which I suspect I’m the high man on, as I’ve seen a lot of middling reviews about the place. I can only say what I saw, and I had a lovely old time. Was it packed with multiple MOTY contenders? No. It was, however, rammed full of great wrestling which is more than enough for me. We now go onto World Tag League before heading to the Dome. What a wonderful time of the year.
Watch Power Struggle: https://njpwworld.com/